Hi all. Forgive my just jumping in here, but I have been doing tons of reading here and have had a few "AHA!" moments that I think have helped clarify the last 2 weeks of my life, but would love some input into my own situation.
A week ago, my ADHD-diagnosed-but-undertreated [ex]-boyfriend announced that he wanted to breakup. Entirely unexpected at the time, but in hindsight, I maybe saw it coming.
Here is my background (this is terribly long, for which I apologize - brevity is not my strong suit, especially when try to summarize a year of events...):
I am a pediatrician with an interest in psychiatry, so ADHD is not an entirely unfamiliar beast to me. In addition, my mother and multiple family members are ADD (though not ADHD and probably more mild on the spectrum), and I have several friends with ADHD who are well-treated and highly successful, including in relationships. I knew my ex was ADHD early on in the relationship, but based on my personal experiences (which led me to do less research/reading than I might have otherwise), probably under-estimated the effect this might have on our relationship. Not sure if this is relevant, but I am 31 and my ex is 25. He initially came off as very mature with a good head on his shoulders and as someone eager to get married and start a family (lots of talk from him about how he would raise children, what he thought about how a marriage should look, etc.), so despite my initial hesitation with the age difference, I quickly stopped really thinking about it at all.
The first few months of dating (a year ago) were halting - he wouldn't call or text for many days and occasionally even a week at a time, even after 3 or 4 dates - when I asked, he said he wanted to take things slowly and didn't really realize how many days had gone by sometimes, and having had whirlwind-but-failed relationships in the past, I went along with it. But once he committed, BOOM! Hyperfocus. He wanted to be with me all the time, was constantly doing things for me, super attentive and sweet. I was totally smitten, and totally in love was not far behind. He was so sweet and caring, and his spontaneity seemed a good balance to my constant planning/overanalysis. In many ways, he helped me learn to stop and breathe and trust more fully. When I had concerns or was annoyed by something, he took the conversations in stride and I felt like we really had good communication, even about difficult things.
I knew that despite his dream of becoming a musician (and we lived in a city HIGHLY favorable for pursuing that career), he had struggled to really make headway in that vein for several years, but as he had been working steadily and seemed to have a plan for that part of his dreams, it didn't concern me. I saw that he was a do-er, in that he was able to get short-term (a day or a week-long) projects done efficiently and well, and figured that he just hadn't had the time to devote to the longer-term stuff. About 4 months into our committed relationship (7 months after our first date), he decided to move back home (800 miles away) for "a few months" to save some money with plans to move back to where I lived after he had saved some money and had some time to prep a demo/EP CD for distribution once he got back. It seemed like a not-unreasonable plan to me - I am quite stable financially, but we have moral/religious opposition to living together prior to marriage and I respected his desire to save money in order to be able to contribute to household finances despite the instability a music career can bring.
At first, it seemed like long-distance was going to be hard but do-able. We saw each other every 2-3 weeks, he would sporadically send me flowers or other sweet things and constantly was telling me how much he missed me (and I him!). A couple months into the separation, it became clear to me that this was not going to be "just a few months", but more like 6 - or so he said. I said I understood that things do not always go as planned, and remained calm and relatively unconcerned. 3 months into the long distance, we attended a wedding of one of his friends in a different city and had our first truly blow-out fight. I felt like we talked through it well, but in hindsight, that was where things began to shift.
Prior to that weekend, he would routinely call 4-5 times per day, sometimes just for 5 minutes at a time to tell me he missed me and was thinking about me. I never doubted that he wanted to be with me and that in absence of being with me, he wanted to talk to me, keep me apprised of his day, etc. 2-3 weeks following that weekend, he found some extra work with a business man who shares many of his hobbies (true to ADHD form, this are high-stim activities like dirt bikes and wakeboarding), and rapidly became devoted to helping this man out whenever he needed, often working all night to complete a project for him, despite the fact that these projects were almost entirely self-directed with no true deadline.
Shortly after starting the new work (in addition to his more structured retail job), he went on a trip and didn't contact me for over 24 hours, which was completely out of the norm. (Just a month prior he had become very concerned after I had failed to call him within a few hours of a missed call from him - despite my insisting that his call had not registered on my phone, because he was sure that either I had been injured or I was mad at him for some reason.) But after he didn't contact me for 24 hours, when I finally called him late at night because I was so worried something had happened to him, I was admonished for being needy and told I should probably get used to not hearing from him regularly sometimes, because if he was successful in music and went on tour, he might not have time to contact me. This hurt me deeply (there were some issues in my past that magnified this, which he was aware of), and when I cried to him about how much that hurt my feelings, he seemed cold and aloof. He eventually told me rather matter-of-factly that he could understand why that might hurt my feelings, but maintained the attitude that he would only be making the effort to contact me in such situations because I was needy, and not because it was a normal thing to expect in a relationship.
From there - in hindsight - things went downhill. He began working more and more hours for the new job on top of his retail job, probably working 40 hours straight without sleeping 2 or 3 times a week. (His family physician had started him back on Adderall, which he hadn't taken since high school, the month before). When I expressed concern that this was not healthy, he told me it was only going to be for a short time, that he would go part time at his retail job at the beginning of the year, and things would calm down.
Mid-November, he came to visit me and we had another huge blowup fight, this time about him staying over at a friend's house all night to play video games. The fight wasn't actually about the video game playing - I had given my blessing for him to stay all night. But when he called me at 11 to tell me he was coming home, then failed to appear for an hour (he was 10 minutes away), I became increasingly worried and called. Four times, he didn't pick up, and when he finally did, he informed me that he was staying the night, he was too drunk to drive, and I was being demanding by asking him to come back and had no reason to be so upset, because he was so involved in the video game - which he restarted after telling me he was coming back - that he couldn't possibly be expected to be held responsible for his lack of communication. He hung up the phone on me that night and refused to pick up, then didn't contact me again until almost noon the next day, despite the fact that he had my car and I was stuck at the house. He finally reappeared and was surprised when I insisted we stay at home for lunch so that we could talk. Again, I was so upset I was in tears, crying in front of him, and he remained cold and distant, insisting that I didn't understand how he needed to spend time with his friends and how I needed to reconsider how I responded to him when I was angry (which was not entirely untrue, to be fair to him). We talked through it, including revealing some pretty heavy things from both of our pasts that played into the argument, and felt like we eventually communicated well through it.
For Thanksgiving, our families were meeting for the first time - his insistence - which I thought was a pretty big deal. By this time, we had discussed marriage several times, with me making it clear that if after a year to 18 months of dating he "wasn't sure", then we needed to reconsider what we were doing. He had continually reassured me that he wasn't "wasting my time", and that he was just trying to make sure we were making the right decision before moving forward (we both come from homes with divorce but believe strongly in the institute of marriage being a lifetime committment). So while I didn't expect a Thanksgiving proposal, I also viewed it as a step in that direction.
Just prior to traveling to his home for Thanksgiving, he informed me in no uncertain terms that he was likely going to HAVE to work while I was there. I told him I knew he had to do the retail job, given Black Friday and all, but since his other job was more self-directed, and his boss was also a friend, wouldn't he have more flexibility there? He told me no, that he still had to work for him, it was a job, I just needed to understand, etc. At the same time, he was working on an independent business startup with a friend. He had spent a lot of the time when he came to visit me earlier that month doing online reseach for it, so I was already aware of how that was occupying his time.
What I didn't realize was that after being alone at home with his parents all morning while he worked retail, then alone with both sets of our parents in the afteroon/evening, he would be staying late at the non-retail job to "finish a project", then meeting his business partner at the house to "go over things for like an hour" - except that in the end, the business partner came to dinner with us and then was at the house until late in the evening "doing research". When I became upset at the total lack of interest he seemed to have in spending time with me - even though I understood he had a lot on his plate, and wasn't really mad at him, just disappointed that so many things had popped up and interrupted our time - I was told (once more) that I had been warned that he needed to be working while I was there, and so I just needed to get used to it.
Then, he managed to get "the whole day" off on Sunday as a surprise, and was excited to be able to "spend the whole day together". When I asked if we could spend an hour or two having lunch with an old friend of mine whom I hadn't seen in a couple years and whom I wanted him to meet (and whom I already told I would come see since I thought he would be working), he became upset and protested that he wanted it to be "just us" that day. I backed off and didn't mention it again, but when his non-retail boss called him early Sunday morning (waking us up) and wanted to have breakfast and a business meeting in 20 minutes, he accepted without hesitation, saying that I would be coming along, without even discussing it with me. When I told him I was upset because not only did he not ASK me what I would like to do, but he had turned down seeing my friend because he was so insistent on having the whole day for "just us", he hastily told me he wanted to have lunch with my friend, and then still couldn't understand why I was upset about the breakfast. I opted out of breakfast, and he went off with promises to come back with food for me - he would call from the restaurant to give me my options and get a carryout order for me to eat before church. Except that he didn't. When he arrived back in the nick of time to leave for church, and I was upset because he had totally failed to follow through on breakfast, he told me that I was being silly and he intended to stop and pick something up for me on the way. I literally could not stop crying on the way to church (in addition to all the emotion of the weekend, I had JUST moved an entire house essentially alone and was already feeling stressed and lonely, so I think I had just hit my limit) and continued crying halfway through the service, and once again, he was cold and distant, not really seeming bothered at how hurt I was.
I had recovered myself by the end of church, and we went to have lunch with my friend. After that, we went to the mall so I could return something for him (long story), and then it was back to his house to have family dinner. All-told, we probably spent 3 "just us" hours together, most of which was in the car and none of which felt like especially quality time.
I left the next morning. We thought we would be able to see each other between Thanksgiving and New Year's, but retail is a bad place to work if you want any time off during that time, and our schedules just couldn't make it work. I had moved just before Thanksgiving, and he had lots of ideas about how he wanted to help out in my new place, and expresssed frustration that he wasn't able to be there for me. Nevertheless, the phone calls became less frequent, but he was still calling once a day and every few days we'd have a lovely longer conversation. He would also go back to the "calling every time he had a few moments to say hi" pattern every few days. It was certainly less communication, but I attributed it to an increase in work on his end and a general "growing out of the honeymoon" phase. Certainly nothing to worry about. Normal growth and evolution of a relationship.
Over Christmas (which we were spending apart), he suddenly decided that he wanted to go to Chicago for New Year's. As I had already purchased my plane tickets to come to him that weekend, this was going to require a great deal of logistic-manipulation and money. Not only that, but we expected that he was going to be working on NYE until 4 pm, which didn't leave a lot of quality time in Chicago. He called me about this around 8 pm Christmas Eve, and I did a bunch of research that night (being the planner in the relationship) trying to find a way to make it work reasonably. When I called him at 9:30 to discuss it further, I got no answer, and despite repeated calls and texts, heard nothing from him.
The next morning after 10 am - after I finally gave up and called his parents' home number instead of his cell phone - I finally talked to him and was treated to a diatribe about how hard he was working and how tired he was and how annoying it was for people to call him when he was sleeping. Then when we talked about Chicago and how I felt it just wasn't really a reasonable plan, I got a speech about how I wasn't being spontaneous enough and didn't I want to have fun and he just wanted to get out of town. I stuck to my guns and said NO, I do not think this is a good idea, but told him if HE could find a way to do it, then he was to let me know (knowing full well that after the impulsivity died down and he looked into it himself, he would agree). That is, of course, what happened, but he remained a bit... snappy... about it for a couple days.
Nevertheless, in the days leading up to my arrival, he was sweet and flirty again, and my concerns died down. I continued to attribute it all to the excessive work/stress and told myself it would die down once he went part time at his retail job in the beginning of the year. However, I still got a lengthy "talking to" about how I "needed to understand" (this is a favorite phrase) that he would "likely have to work" while I was there, even on the days he wasn't working his retail job. And that I couldn't get upset again like I did at Thanksgiving just because he "had to work". When I asked again why that was, given the nature of his other job and the fact that it was, after all, a holiday, he went off on how it was his "responsibility" and that I clearly did not understand and did not respect this as a "real" job. When I told him I was concerned that his non-retail boss was taking advantage of his willingness to essentially be "on call" for him, he told me that he felt it was an even give-and-take relationship, as he appreciated the flexibility, the extra work, and the "perks" of getting to do the fun hobbies like dirt-biking and wake-boarding with this boss (and all his fancy equipment). I finally stopped trying, agreed that I would view this as a job and a responsibility, and do my best to not be upset if he ended up having to go in over the weekend).
Well. When I arrived, some significant family discord had gone down and just after picking me up from the airport, his car broke down. He had gotten the weekend off after all, and ended up having to spend a good chunk of each day (usually in the morning while I slept, as I was not feeling well) working on the cars. When he wasn't working on the car, he was researching how to fix the car. Even so, he was what I would call especially sweet with me - at NYE dinner he called me the best thing to happen to him in 2011, and spent one day catering to my every need, making me homemade chicken noodle soup, cooking me dinner, and generally ordering me to stay on the couch and get better. He was less affectionate than normal, and at one point said something to the effect of "I could get so much more done on the car if you weren't here and I didn't want to spend time with you," but I attributed that to the enormous stress of the weekend and him not wanting to catch my cold. Otherwise, I saw no major sign of impending doom. When I left, he told me several times (including a voicemail he left while I stood in line at airport security) how much he appreciated me and my support.
A couple days after returning home, we realized that the dates for a ski trip we had planned were not going to work out, and when I asked when I should come there instead for a vist (since he was going to be so busy with work and didn't want to travel), he said, "tomorrow". But over the next several days, his communication became so infrequent and strained that something just seemed... off. He would call once a day, seem distracted and like maybe he didn't really want to talk, and then talk for 5 minutes before saying, "I should let you go."
Finally, less than a week after he dropped me off at the airport, I asked him if there was something wrong. He said no, but that he did want to talk about some things in our relationship. Only he was too tired then and could it wait until tomorrow? I asked him if I should be worried, he said no. I said that was fine, as he sometimes needs time to process big things, and asked that he think about something that had been bothering me (again, trying to give him processing time), and told him that when he was really busy lately, the way that he talked to me sometimes made me feel like just another item on a to-do list. He opted to take that into a full discussion that lasted 2 hours, the bottom line being him saying: my priority right now is my financial/career goals [despite having lived at home for 6 months by this point, he had failed to really save any money or accomplish any of the music goals he wanted to], you are no longer my priority [his exact words], I cannot give you what you want/need, that isn't fair to you, I want to break up.
This, obviously, was devastating to hear and I immediately lost it, sobbing into the phone that I did not understand, didn't you just tell me that I didn't have anything to be worried about, didn't you just say I was the best thing to happen to you in 2011, what are you talking about? Finally, I recovered myself enough to say: if you want to break up, I will no longer be a part of your life, is that what you want? This clearly upset him - he accused me of giving him an ultimatum, that he never said he wanted me out of his life. I told him it wasn't an ultimatum, it's what I would need to do to survive, and said if that's not what he meant, then he needed to think about what he really wanted and get back to me. He agreed, and told me we would talk the following evening at 10, when he would be out of a mandatory work meeting.
At 10:40 the next night, I hadn't heard from him, so I texted him and asked if we were still going to talk that night. He texted back and said he was too tired, could we do it tomorrow? I said that was fine, even though I was pretty upset (but not wanting to push him into the "you don't understand!" diatribe), but asked for a general time to expect the conversation. He told me he couldn't give me a time, that he was "super busy" starting at 5:30 am. I told him that wasn't really fair, he pushed back again with "I'm busy". I called, thinking it would be easier to talk than text, and he wouldn't pick up.
He did not call the following day at all. I didn't contact him. The day after that, I heard nothing from him until 12:30 am, when he texted to tell me that "he knew we hadn't talked" and suggested the following night at 8 pm, when he expected to be done with some things for his new business.
At 11 pm the following night - 3 hours after our supposed phone date - he texted to inform me that he was headed to the ER because a friend of his was there and might be having surgery. I responded that I was sorry, but that I had expected to hear from him 3 hours ago, and was he just now able to contact me? I got not response, and so tried to call him. He didn't pick up. An hour later, I texted asking him what was going on (again). 45 minutes after that (so 12:45 am), he texted back that he was "helping his dad out with something". At this point, I was livid, as he was clearly just avoiding me now, and called him until he picked up the phone. There was immediately yelling, with me accusing him of lying about having to go to the ER (he claimed shortly after he texted he found out that the friend was several hours away and the situation wasn't as dire as they thought), then the yelling started and he launched into, "You need to understand how busy I am" and me saying, "Why don't you realize how much this is hurting me?". He hung up on me, then texted me and said he was willing to talk, but that he would not tolerate yelling and I "needed to listen". I told him the same.
So he called. What proceeded was 2 and a half hours of completely circuitous conversation. His first response to me was that he had TOLD me how his priority was no longer me, why did I expect him to make time to talk to me? Didn't I understand the situation? Hadn't he explained it clearly? No matter how many times I told him how much I hurt, or how unhealthy I thought what he was doing to himself was (still pulling 30-40 hours of work several times a week with little-to-no sleep), or how I thought there was something wrong because (as a doctor) I knew plenty of people with tons of work committments who managed to have healthy and fulfilling relationships in addition to achieving their career goals, he continued to insist that his priority now HAD to be these financial/career goals - goals which quite frankly, seem like a setup for failure in their grandiosity and in his desire to achieve them all both immediately and simultaneously. Especially given that they were essentially the same goals he's had for the past year and has not made any perceptible progress in achieving them. And he continued to insist that because these goals were his priorty, and NOT ME, it was only fair to let me go. When I asked him what some of his trusted advisers thought of these things, he told me outright, "They think I am doing too much, but I'm not listening to them, probably because I'm stubborn."
When I once again told him that breaking up = no longer being in his life, he became unhappy again. I finally said, "what it sounds like you want is to not have any obligation to me but to still be friends, is that right?" He agreed rather eagerly that that is what he wanted, and I told him again that would not be happening. I tried to get him to clarify his feelings for me, thinking maybe that would help him see how ridiculous the "just friends" thing was, but despite acknowledging that his feelings for me were far more than platonic, he couldn't see it, continuing to say that even if his feelings hadn't really changed his "passion for the relationship" was no longer there.
But he still hadn't explicitly said, "OK, even if it means you are totally out of my life, I want to break up." He kept insisting that's not what he wanted, even though he could see that it wasn't fair to me to not be a priority in his life. Finally, I just said, "Being friends is not a choice. Your choice is to either re-evaluate your priorities and find a way to try to make this work, or to break up and have me out of your life. Do you choose your financial goals over this relationship, even if it means having me out of your life completely?" After several minutes, he simply said, "Yes."
And so there it was. The complicating factor is that he left behind TONS of crap at my house when he moved home - golf clubs, a painting by his recently deceased grandmother, a steamer trunk, etc - large items that will require a truck to move and a significant amount of space to store. I told him in no uncertain terms that he was responsible for coming to remove these items - not a friend or a relative, HIM. And I am certainly not lifting a finger - I moved all the crap FOR HIM, even packing some of it, when I moved in November.
So here is where I ask for input/advice:
- what I think happened is this: hyperfocus on new relationship --> relationship becoming more real/less exciting --> entrance of new boss with exciting toys and opportunity to make money --> shift of hyperfocus onto new boss/job/achieving financial goals --> realization that it is hard to hyperfocus on career and maintain a long distance relationship --> feelings of guilt, helplessness and inadequacy over lack of ability to maintain relationship --> increased irritation and guilt when partner points out hurt feelings --> resentment and feelings of obligation toward relationship further decreasing excitement --> sense that relationship is preventing progress in hyperfocused-goal --> decision to end relationship, despite still internally caring about partner
Does this sound like a reasonable explanation, and a progression that could occur in someone with severe and relatively untreated ADHD? Although he is on Adderrall, pharamaceutical intervention is pretty much the only treatment he's ever had. His mom homeschooled him the majority of his elementary/middle school years, and attributes ADHD to "distraction from Satan," and thus has never really gotten him intervention beyond meds (so zero counseling/therapy/behavior mod). He is aware of his ADHD and acknowledges that it requires some maintenance like list-making and day planner reminders, but I don't think aware of all its emotional/relational implications (I certainly wasn't).
If people agree this is a reasonable explanation - is there a way that I can suggest to him that he seeks help before his life spirals further out of control? Despite my hurt and anger with him, I still love him (dammit), and while I agree that he has no business being in a relationship right now, and don't even know if I would consider a relationship with him in the future regardless of how much treatment he had, I think he deserves to get a chance to work on this and get to a point where he COULD have a relationship. I just don't know if there's a way for me to suggest that that he might actually HEAR - the latter part of our last conversation really was very calm and straightforward and unemotional on both ends (the benefit of him not talking to me for several days - I had time to gather my thoughts and calm down), and I was able to share my general sense of "something's not right, I think you need counseling of some kind", but I hadn't found this website yet and couldn't really pinpoint what I meant. Now I feel like I can - but can I relay that to him?? (I accept that I cannot force him into anything - but I can tell him what I see, and what I think would help him, and hope that maybe one day it will sink in...)
And on a more practical note - how do I handle him coming to get his stuff? He told me he would do it "soon", but I am no fool. In order to come get it, he needs to arrange a plane flight, a truck, and a storage space. He could barely handle a phone call. I am determined to hold him responsible for this, and it's honestly not in my way, but it would help my ability to move on to get it out sooner rather than later, if only because him coming to get it means seeing him one last time (which I would like for closure - I hate phone breakups). Are there communication tips/tricks that people have that won't just come across as me nagging him to death? The official breakup conversation was Thursday, and today would have been his first day off since then... how long is too long? I have friends who want me to give him an ultimatum ending with selling it all on Craig's list or taking it all to Goodwill by a certain time, but I don't think that is something he'll respond well too, and it's more effort than he is worth to do any of those things!
Alright. Y'all are ANGELS if you have read all this and responded. Seriously. I cannot tell you how helpful it has been to read all the different stories here - while some things I have read here are disheartening, and I am still totally devastated and heartbroken over losing this man, I can also see how I may have dodged a bullet if he persists with these patterns of behaviors and refuses to to seek help... but I can't help but encourage him to try, even if it won't restore our relationship in any way. I want him to have a chance at some of the happy relationships I've read about here. I will happily take into consideration any advice you have to offer...